Lesbians and Gays in History

Article excerpt

All right, students, put your books under your desks and take out your pencils. Time for a pop quiz. There is only one question.

What do the following people have in common: Plato, Alexander the Great, Hadrian, Richard the Lion Hearted, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Montezuma II, Queen Christina of Sweden, Peter the Great, Frederick the Great, Chief Crazy Horse, Peter Tchaikovsky, Bayard Rustin, Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, Bessie Smith, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Marguerite Yourcenar, Audre Lorde, Martina Navratilova, Andy Warhol, Dame Ethel Smyth, Greg Louganis, Frieda Kahlo, Walt Whitman, John Maynard Keynes, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Cole Porter, Herman Melville, Jane Addams, Marlene Dietrich, Walt Whitman, Rock Hudson, k.d. lang and Sappho?

And the answer is . . . (drum roll, please). First, they are individuals of renown who have distinguished themselves in some arena of importance to humanity such as the arts, entertainment, politics, the military, science, sports or medicine. Second, they are all lesbian, gay or bisexual.

How many of you knew the sexual orientation of these great contributors to humanity before this quiz? Probably about a dozen of you. That's why the month of October has been newly designated Lesbian and Gay History Month, so that the truth about gay lives, contributions and culture could be told.

The campaign to introduce Lesbian and Gay History Month into secondary schools and universities has received official endorsements from several prestigious sources, including the American Historical Association's Committee on Lesbian and Gay History; the National Institute for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns in Education; the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, and Chicago's Mayor Advisory Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues.

I have great hope that other cities and states will follow Chicago's example of proclaiming an official lesbian and gay history month. As with other traditionally marginalized groups, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have seen their history obscured or distorted for the convenience of a dominant culture unwilling to deal with its own sins of abuse and omission. Like women, African-Americans, native Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, we lesbians and gays will now have the opportunity to take our rightful place in history. As author Paul Monette put it, "Our stories have died with us long enough."

October makes a good choice for Lesbian and Gay History Month because Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day. National Coming Out Day has been celebrated annually since the first en masse lesbian and gay civil rights march on Washington in 1987. National Coming Out Day encourages lesbians, gay men and bisexuals to be honest about their sexual orientation with family members, friends and co-workers. …